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inexpensive telescope for nephew?
Posted by: Mr Downtown
Date: December 09, 2008 06:07PM
My 10-year-old nephew has expressed interest in a telescope, but he has a history of desperately wanting something that then gathers dust in a corner while he plays videogames. Nonetheless, he seems interested in science and I want to encourage him to engage with the real world. So has anyone seen a reasonable telescope in the $40-50 range?
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Re: inexpensive telescope for nephew?
Posted by: Paul F.
Date: December 09, 2008 06:47PM
First, destroy the video games... (half serious here!)

You won't get much at ALL for that kind of money in decent optics... and poor optics generate more frustration than wonder.

I know this is more than your budget, but it's the most "bang for the buck" at $179
[www.telescope.com]

I'd actually suggest the 6" model for $249 if you think there is any real chance of him developing an interest.

FORGET those cheap refractors made in china with plastic lenses!!! Utter, unmitigated JUNK! Might as well burn the $50 and save the frustration.


Seriously, the 4.5" or 6" Dobsonian is a lot of scope for the money, and cheaper than the other good choice; a good pair of binoculars.



Paul F.
-----
A sword never kills anybody; it is a tool in the killer's hand. - Lucius Annaeus Seneca c. 5 BC - 65 AD
----
Good is the enemy of Excellent. Talent is not necessary for Excellence.
Persistence is necessary for Excellence. And Persistence is a Decision.

--

--

--
Eureka, CA
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Re: inexpensive telescope for nephew?
Posted by: graham1352
Date: December 09, 2008 06:56PM
Agreed with what is said above,sometimes you can find decent deals on craigslist though.
Here's a link to a forum with a plethora of advice.
[www.cloudynights.com]
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Re: inexpensive telescope for nephew?
Posted by: freeradical
Date: December 09, 2008 07:19PM
There is no such thing as a good $50 telescope. I'd try finding him a good used pair of 10X50 binoculars.
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Re: inexpensive telescope for nephew?
Posted by: Greg the dogsitter
Date: December 09, 2008 07:48PM
Binoculars binoculars binoculars.
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Re: inexpensive telescope for nephew?
Posted by: Mr Downtown
Date: December 09, 2008 07:56PM
Um, guys, he's a 10-year-old boy, not a postgrad in astrophysics. Let's not make the perfect the enemy of the good. You're saying he wouldn't be able to see craters on the moon or Saturn's rings with a $40 telescope? Lightspill in his North Texas suburban backyard won't make it possible for him to see anything very dim. The problem with binoculars is holding them steady.

As for the videogames, I'm his uncle, not his father. My job is to encourage good pastimes, not to forbid bad ones.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 12/09/2008 07:57PM by Mr Downtown.
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Re: inexpensive telescope for nephew?
Posted by: Paul F.
Date: December 09, 2008 08:12PM
Quote

You're saying he wouldn't be able to see craters on the moon or Saturn's rings with a $40 telescope? Lightspill in his North Texas suburban backyard won't make it possible for him to see anything very dim. The problem with binoculars is holding them steady.

I say this with the experience of an amateur astronomy enthusiast with no budget under my belt, and with complete sincereity and confidence;
That is exactly what I'm saying.... The $40 telescopes really can't focus on even the 'easy' objects like the moon or rings of saturn.

IF I were trying to steer you to a "serious amatuer" 'scope, I'd have linked to a nice 8" or 10" dobsonian or Newtonian mounted scope for $400 to $800 (and those, by the way, are a LOT of good glass for the money!).

Binocs, even given the problem of holding them steady, have the advantage of being "multi use". In my opinion, a good set of binocs will be more expensive than the $179 4.5" scope I linked to.

Seriously; I'm not kidding or exxagerating when I say you won't get anything worthwhile for $50-60 when it comes to a telescope.
Even 20 years ago when I was desperately trying to get something useable (and $50-60 bought a lot more than it does now) it proved impossible. Back then, before the Dobsonian mounted style telescopes were available retail (that mount style was pioneered as a home-built), the best I could do was a 4" newtonian from Edmund Scientific for (as I recall) around $300 (in late 1980's dollars!).

Binocs or a 4.5" Dob are your best bet....



Paul F.
-----
A sword never kills anybody; it is a tool in the killer's hand. - Lucius Annaeus Seneca c. 5 BC - 65 AD
----
Good is the enemy of Excellent. Talent is not necessary for Excellence.
Persistence is necessary for Excellence. And Persistence is a Decision.

--

--

--
Eureka, CA
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Re: inexpensive telescope for nephew?
Posted by: -jeffB
Date: December 09, 2008 08:20PM
I actually ended up getting a fair amount of astronomical satisfaction out of a cheap department-store scope as a kid. HOWEVER, that says more about my own obsessive-compulsive approach to hobbies than it does about recommending such a scope.

Yes, you can see craters on the moon or Saturn's rings through the cheap scope. You can see them very briefly as they wobble and drift across the eyepiece's field of view, while you try to keep the cheap tripod steady. After looking at them a few times, you'll both be ready to send the scope to that dusty corner.

If you're lucky, or very persistent, you can manage to get a department-store scope to stay where you point it, and yes, you can see Saturn's rings and Jupiter's moons. If you practice and concentrate, you might glimpse Jupiter's cloud bands. You can see the Andromeda galaxy as a big, fuzzy oval; you can see the Orion nebula as a bright fan with three or four small stars embedded within it; you can see double stars; you can see the crescent Venus; you might see Mars' ice cap.

I've seen a lot of people say that giving a department-store scope is worse than giving no scope at all. I'm not sure I concur. I got pretty far with mine, and while I always craved a bigger and better scope, I never would've learned as much as I did without it. For my family, as perhaps for his, a "real" telescope was simply out of the question -- but I got $70 worth out of that "toy" scope, many times over.

As for specific recommendations, well, scopes in that range are pretty uniformly bad. Mine was a Jason, a brand that I think still exists, and while the tripod was the pits, the optics were actually passable. Try, if you possibly can, to get a 60mm scope rather than something smaller; 60mm (the diameter of the big "front" lens) is about the minimum for being worthwhile at all. If you can, try one in the store, and verify that you can point it at things and have it stay where you point it.

Good luck!
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Re: inexpensive telescope for nephew?
Posted by: Paul F.
Date: December 09, 2008 08:40PM
If you have to go with a "cheaper" alternative...
I'd suggest something like this reflector;
[www.opticsplanet.net]

Reflecting telescopes are easier to make "on the cheap" than a decent Refractor (look-through-lenses) type is.

This 4" reflector is actually very similar to my Edmund Scientific scope... only I think it's a plain Newtonian rather than a Cassegrain-Newtonian like the Edmunds was... OK... technical details.. never mind...

The field of view will be MUCH better, and the brightness much better than a small Refractor.



Paul F.
-----
A sword never kills anybody; it is a tool in the killer's hand. - Lucius Annaeus Seneca c. 5 BC - 65 AD
----
Good is the enemy of Excellent. Talent is not necessary for Excellence.
Persistence is necessary for Excellence. And Persistence is a Decision.

--

--

--
Eureka, CA
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Re: inexpensive telescope for nephew?
Posted by: Paul F.
Date: December 09, 2008 08:47PM
Addendum;

This model of Bushnell for $137 is almost EXACTLY the same as the old Edmunds AstroScan 2001;
[www.opticsplanet.net]

Except the Bushnell is black and the old AstroScan was red :-)

At 4.5" aperture, and the easy-sliding ball type mount, it'd be a real step up from a 60mm or 70mm Refractor, with greater field of view and more eyepiece choices available if your nephew really takes an interest.



Paul F.
-----
A sword never kills anybody; it is a tool in the killer's hand. - Lucius Annaeus Seneca c. 5 BC - 65 AD
----
Good is the enemy of Excellent. Talent is not necessary for Excellence.
Persistence is necessary for Excellence. And Persistence is a Decision.

--

--

--
Eureka, CA
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Re: inexpensive telescope for nephew?
Posted by: Drew
Date: December 09, 2008 09:46PM
Maybe you should give up and just buy him a first person shooter.;)
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Re: inexpensive telescope for nephew?
Posted by: Mr Downtown
Date: December 09, 2008 10:04PM
What's a first person shooter?

Anyway, Craigslist looks fairly promising. Lots of telescopes.
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Re: inexpensive telescope for nephew?
Posted by: Drew
Date: December 09, 2008 10:20PM
Quote
Mr Downtown
What's a first person shooter?

I kinda wish I didn't know myself, but I have a teenage son. Here's a snippet from Wikipedia:

"A first-person shooter (FPS) is an action[1] video game from the shooter game[1] subgenre. Like all shooters, they involve "an avatar, one or more ranged weapons, and a varying number of enemies".[1] FPSs are distinguished by a first person perspective, that renders the game world from the visual perspective of the player character. The character is nominally a literal person; humanoid movement is expected."
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Re: inexpensive telescope for nephew?
Posted by: Ted King
Date: December 09, 2008 10:21PM
It's very important to make clear to a ten year old boy that under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should he look at the sun through any kind of telescope - even one with that has what is supposed to be a "sun filter".
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Re: inexpensive telescope for nephew?
Posted by: Mr Downtown
Date: December 09, 2008 10:34PM
Ah. He seems to have dozens of "first-person shooter" games. Nothing says Christmas morning like the sound of gunfire in the living room.
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Re: inexpensive telescope for nephew?
Posted by: Paul F.
Date: December 09, 2008 10:34PM
Ooooooohhhh yeah.....

Demonstrate lighting paper on fire with a magnifying glass... then make it clear that the telescope would be more effective... and his eye just as fragile as the paper.


GOOD sun filters are expensive.... Looking at sunspots and corona is darn neat, but not worth getting a concentrated shot of ultraviolet and infrared (which cheap filters don't stop) to the retina.

Now... a projection onto white paper from a secondary focus in a dark box... THAT could be interesting!



Paul F.
-----
A sword never kills anybody; it is a tool in the killer's hand. - Lucius Annaeus Seneca c. 5 BC - 65 AD
----
Good is the enemy of Excellent. Talent is not necessary for Excellence.
Persistence is necessary for Excellence. And Persistence is a Decision.

--

--

--
Eureka, CA
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Re: inexpensive telescope for nephew?
Posted by: cbelt3
Date: December 10, 2008 08:48AM
Absolutely binoculars. And a camping mat to lie on while doing backyard astronomy. Cheap telescope ? No, absolutely no.

I do a unit on Astronomy for our Cub Scout pack. Take 'em out into the open field during campouts after dark, lie on your back, and just look up with binoculars. See some stars, a few planets, get a good look at the moon. Then go satellite watching. I guarantee they will see at least one satellite transiting in an hour of observation. If it's a clear night (winter is best) there's an even chance they will see a 'shooting star'.
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